With as much as 20 percent of Nigeria’s crude oil production stolen regularly, nobody will blame the Federal Government for adopting any measure – no matter how drastic it will be, to counter the challenge. However, adopting a recipe that has the potential of attracting avoidable misgivings and eventual turbulence, may also translate into shooting oneself in the foot, especially when and if there are no guarantees of sustainable stability of the measure. Yet this is what the Federal Government through the just restructured Nigeria National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL), may have lunged into with the recent award of a multi-billion naira oil pipeline surveillance contract, to a private security company in which a Niger Delta militant leader – Chief Government Ekpemupolo, also known as Tompolo, is reported to have interests. The contract which is valued at N4 billion per month is to rake in N48 billion per annum.
The news of the contract was confirmed by the Chief Executive Officer of the NNPCL Mele Kyari last week at the State House while addressing journalists. Justifying the development Kyari cited the contract as a good one which serves the need to involve private security companies in monitoring and protecting the country’s network of oil and gas pipelines estimated at about 5,100 kilometers long and is spread over300,000 square kilometers of mostly marshy land. Also throwing his weight behind the contract is the governor of Delta State Ifeanyi Okowa, who argues that the contract will provide engagement for host communities with the vital oil and gas industry, and thereby source jobs along the line. Seen in the context of sheer magnitude, the issue of protecting such a vital component of national assets as envisaged, constitutes a matter that demands robust interrogation.
To state that the news of the contract may have stirred the hornet’s nest in the Niger Delta region since it was made public, is to under-state the obvious. Expectedly, a cascade of protests and queries had been raging over several aspects of the transaction, including the apparent secrecy under which it could have been conceived and perfected (especially with the absence of any buy-in by a wider stream of stakeholders in the region), scope of coverage of the terrain and pipeline network, capacity of the contractor to deliver and the interface between the private contractor as well as the formal state operators in the terrain of national security. In the light of information available to the public, even the National Assembly seems to have been sidelined in the transaction. Yet in another vein the sources of these queries range from the governor of Ondo State Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, to civil society lobbies and several groups of usually armed agitators in the Niger Delta region. The issue now is how to ensure that all of the dissenting interests are pacified to guarantee that the contract remains feasible. And that is where the crux of the matter lies.
A proper starting point for any review of the contract remains the nature as well as the economic and political circumstances of the Niger Delta region. As the name implies the region comprises an estuarine network of creeks which intersperse the land area and predisposes distinct ethnic groups to occupy designated areas within it independent of each other. It is for this reason that small as the terrain is, there are dozens of ethnic groups with an equally diversified range of languages and dialects. One of Nigeria’s female singers – Evi Edna Ogholi, had captured the picture most graphically in her 1988 hit single ‘One Kilometer’ when she sang that ‘One kilometer means another language’. It is therefore a matter of concern how any private sector pipeline monitor employed as a non-state actor, will enjoy full support outside his or her ethnic base to execute a pipeline surveillance, without let or hindrance. The same argument attends to the issue of scope of coverage by any private sector monitor in a bid to access oil facilities outside his or her terrain.
Another question rises over the capacity of the supposedly omnibus contractor. Pipeline monitoring in Nigeria is never a piece of cake. Given the widespread instances of abuse in Nigeria’s oil and gas sector, activities often take a dog-eat-dog character with frequent deadly fights in the bargain. Several task forces designated to monitor the activities in that sector have testimonies of casualties in their ranks as well as narrow escapes from death, during their sorties among the numerous armed oil thieves. Against the backdrop of the foregoing lies the question of what capacity will the contractor muster and deploy. For instance, will the operatives of the contractor bear fire arms? And if so what are the implications for the country’s policy on the use of firearms by private citizens?
Yet another is the issue of interface between the contractor and the country’s security services. Under whose command will the contractor operate between the NNPCL and the Nigerian defence establishment? This question remains most germane as the contractor is coming to operate in the same constitutional beat as the Nigerian military. In a world of ‘he who pays the piper dictates the tune’, who will sing the tune for the contractor when the NNPCL pays the bills and the military ‘directs’ operations? When viewed on paper the scenario will seem trouble-free. But when confronted with operational, theatre contingencies, which are most likely to occur frequently, the true test of the contract deal will ensue and its incontinences could manifest. What remedies will be available to the country under such circumstances becomes the issue. Hence if there are misgivings in Nigeria’s public domain over the contract, it is because of the unresolved state of the foregoing questions and others which agitate the minds of concerned Nigerians.
In that context therefore, it will be wisdom if the NNPCL considers that as far as this matter is concerned, Nigerians expect more insights on it, as the last word has not been heard.
Nigerians can now earn US Dollars by acquiring premium domain names, most clients earn about $7,000 to $10,000, all paid in US Dollars. Click here to learn how to start.